Brain Development Requires Preschool?

Our op-ed on early childhood education has drawn a response from an advocate of taxpayer-funded preschool in the article “LEADELL EDIGER: STATE NEEDS MORE QUALITY PRESCHOOLS.”Ediger is the executive director of KACCRRA, the Kansas Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies.

I was startled by the commentary by John R. LaPlante (“Science doesn’t support claims about preschool,” May 2 Opinion).

The problem appears to be that LaPlante decided first that he believes education should be sold to the highest bidder; then he contorted the facts to fit his preconceived notion. Commonsense Kansans know better.

Here’s what you need to know about early childhood education.

First, the programs that work best are voluntary, high-quality programs that give parents control over whether or not their child participates. That these programs are voluntary somehow eluded LaPlante. The state’s goal is simply to expand the number of voluntary, high-quality programs from which parents and children can choose.

Second, 90 percent of a child’s brain development occurs before the age of 5. That science is indisputable. However, since kindergarten doesn’t begin until after a child turns 5, early learning programs such as prekindergarten and Early Head Start provide crucial support that leads to future success.

Third, early childhood education is the best way to improve outcomes in the K-12 system. Children who participate in early learning programs are more likely to enter kindergarten ready to learn, more likely to read at the proper level by the third grade, and more likely to graduate from high school and even college.

Finally, early childhood education pays for itself. Numerous studies have proved that for every $1 spent on early childhood education, the state saves $7 in return. That’s because children who participate in these programs are less likely to get in trouble with law enforcement, are less likely to smoke, and are more likely to become positive contributors to the Kansas economy.

Kansas legislators understand these facts, and that’s why a bipartisan group of legislators recently supported expanding prekindergarten pilot sites and access to Early Head Start in rural and underserved communities around the state.

Supporters of early childhood education in Kansas — including parents, teachers, business leaders and law enforcement officials — have gotten together to form a coalition called the Kansas Coalition for School Readiness.

The coalition members appreciate and understand the value of early learning and, working together, we’re going to continue to expand access to voluntary, high-quality early childhood education.

A few comments:

Highest bidder? Our op-ed was all about questioning, not advocating, the “sale” of preschool services. Can you define the word “non sequitur” again?

Nowhere does this commentary address our initial concerns, especially the fact that the “$7 saved for each $1 invested” argument is based on studies of questionable methodology.

Of greater concern is the failure of the education establishment to properly educate all children in its trust already, the appeals to flawed studies, and the resultant question of the desirability of taxpayer funded preschool. Further, the appeal to brain science sounds terribly deterministic. The idea that if your child is not in the best preschool by age 1 his chances for success are doomed reminds us of the Diane Keaton comedy Baby Boom. Further, the book The Myth of the First Three Years provides some sobering rejoinders to the rush to preschool.

Finally, a note on voluntary versus mandatory enrollment. One thing is clear: enrollment may be voluntary, but public payment of the services would not be, if advocates such as Ediger succeed.

Recently, the chairman of the House education committee called for lowering the age of mandatory enrollment in education.  The proposal didn’t get anywhere, but the trial balloon shows that the expansion of a government program dealing with schooling is not impossible. Another possibility for mandatory enrollment: a revision to welfare reform. Now, we’re not saying that mandatory enrollment is a major concern–we think its prospects slim indeed–but it is something worth noting.

Voluntary funding of preschool programs? Great. Go ahead and try. Taxpayer funding? An overly ambitious program that neglects (as does Ediger’s column does) a proven tool of boosting student achievement: competition and school choice.

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  • Mark  On May 27, 2007 at 4:35 pm

    So are you saying that pre-school is unnecessary?

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